Mind Games

Can hip-hop music be saved? The students of Booker T. Washington High School say yes

You couldn't tell from the physical beauty of the high school's campus that the state is impugning its reputation. The lawns there are neat and manicured, and the buildings are clean and free of markings. Inside the auditorium the school' s eleventh- and twelfth-grade classes cheered on as local rappers Draz and Infinite, then several members from Youth Expressions, rhymed about strong male/female relationships, integrity, and not selling out (a concept Hip-Hop Immortals' gallery of stars claimed was an oxymoron). People really got into it, leaping out of their seats and even turning on their cell phones the way rock fans often lift up their Bic lighters in salute. At one point a few students tried to get up and leave, but were quickly shushed back to their seats by the hall monitors. Is that an example of a bad school?

After the show was over, I went backstage and talked to Bruce "B-Right" Wright, co-chairman of the NAACP's arts and entertainment sub-committee, and Jack Delus, who promotes events at downtown Miami's Club NV and sits on the steering committee for the NAACP Youth Power Summit (scheduled to take place May 7-9 at the Coconut Grove Convention Center). "There's so much focus on the FCAT that we didn't want to throw more stuff at them," said Wright about the performance. Nevertheless the show managed to be both entertaining and positive -- the same qualities that major-league rappers allege are corny and not marketable.

I was both inspired and depressed. If an auditorium full of hundreds of students can bounce to clean rap, then why can't the record industry figure out a way to reach them with the same content? Wright said that it starts from the ground up. "As far as what's projected on TV, on the radio, we're trying to change that," he said. With luck, they'll grow up to remake hip-hop culture in ways we can't find the courage to do.

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